is far too terse sometimes.
The Portland Vase is/was a magnificent1 glass vase about
nine inches tall, in a hypnotic shade of cobalt blue, with scenes of
cavorting gods and goddesses appearing in relief, in white glass around
the outside. The vase is one of the few examples of cameo glass
to survive from Roman times. Although it was probably made sometime during
the reign of Augustus Caesar, the vase is far better known for its recent
Precisely how the vase survived the Middle Ages is lost to us. One story
describes it as being stolen from the tomb of Roman Emperor Alexander Deverus
sometime around 1580. (one source describes it as a 'cinerary urn',
which means it may have held the Emperor's ashes). The vase first appears
in the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria Borbone del Monte.
When the cardinal died in 1626, his heirs sold it to Cardinal Antonio
Barberini. Around 1770, however, Scottish architect and antique
hunter James Byres, bought it from the Barberini heirs, and sold it to
Sir William Hamilton. Some time in 1783 Margaret Bentinck,
2nd Duchess of Portland saw the vase and had to have it. She purchased the
vase from Hamilton in 1784.
The vase was to be the Duchess's greatest treasure, the one she would
only allow her most favoured guests to see. Unfortunately for her,
the event that brought the vase to everyone's attention was the
Duchess's death in 1785. The vase created quite a sensation when
it appeared in the auction of the Duchess's effects. Although her
son, now Duke of Portland, bought it, he immediately lent it to Josiah
Wedgwood. Several drawings of the outside of the vase were made,
and Wedgwood set about trying to reproduce it.
In 1791, Wedgwood succeeded in producing jasperware versions of the
vase -- although crude compared to the original, it was a triumph of the
day's pottery technology. Wedgwood built up legends about the vase
in order to boost sales, probably one reason the vase's origins have been
The original vase wound up back with the Duke of Portland until 1810,
when a clumsy friend broke the base off. The Duke decided that the vase
would be safer in the British Museum and lent it to them.
All was well until 1845, when a certain William Mulcahy blundered
into the museum after having too much to drink. In a fit, he smashed
the vase's display case and broke this object which had survived more than
eighteen centuries into hundreds of pieces. Mulcahy was later charged
for breaking the case.
Fortunately, the drawings from 1790 still existed. An employee of the
Museum, John Doubleday, was immediately set to putting the vase back
together as best he could. It was a very good job for the time; unfortunately,
Doubleday left out several pieces, and used a glue that changed color and
expanded over the years.
Glassmaker Benjamin Richardson was so taken by the vase that he set
his employees to the rediscovery of ancient Roman techniques in cameo glass
making, offering a £1000 reward to the first one who could. This
effort bore fruit in the late 1870's, and a craze in Victorian, and later
art noveau cameo glass began.
In 1929 came the event the British Museum dreaded (second) most: the
Duke's heirs decided to sell the vase at auction in order to raise money.
By 1945 the Museum had purchased the vase. A second restoration
was undertaken in 1949, this cleaned up the glue problem but there were
still many pieces leftover.
Finally, in 1986, Nigel Williams performed a third restoration for
the British Museum. This time, computer imagery was employed to help
line up the pieces, and an epoxy was used that could be dissolved later,
should another restoration be needed. What's more, several
of the leftover pieces found their rightful places.
Much better-looking than the Bishop's Bird-stump
http://tx.essortment.com/portlandvase_rmtt.htm which has far too much